If You’re Thinking About Going Solar, Here’s the Most Important Question to Consider
It’s the easiest and first one you should think about.
Trying to Make a Data Driven Decision
A decade ago, solar panels in my area were few and far between. They sat on peoples’ homes or were dotted across farmland almost as a novelty. But over the last few years, that has changed. More and more companies have come to New England, and the big, shiny, black panels have been popping up on new construction, on businesses and are even being used to power municipal properties like transfer stations and town offices.
Several years ago, we decided to start researching solar panels for our home. We live in New England, where the winters are long, but the summer days are long and bright.
A pessimist would argue that because of the short, dark winter days, solar panels would be a poor investment. And yet and optimist might point out that the long summer days could generate surplus energy to offset operating at a loss in the winter. Here’s the thing — both are right.
There is no shortage of data that you can dive into when considering this topic. We had a rep from a solar company come to our house and leave behind a folio of bright pictures, graphs and financing information.
We spent hours reading, researching, running scenarios, looking for a quantitative, undebatable answer as to whether or not we should take the plunge and go solar.
In a nutshell, solar panels are expensive, but there are lots of financing options available to pay for them. Once you have them, you will pay less or pay nothing for electricity from the grid. There are little variations in each of those pieces, but at the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to.
So after lots of long discussions, we landed at the question that we should have started with at the beginning: Do we want solar panels?
For us, the answer was yes. But we have friends who were going through the process at the same time. They looked at the financing options, the ROI, the risks and reward and decided that they didn’t want to get them.
Two and a half years ago, we went for it, and a team of six installers showed up with a box truck and a panel van. It took them a little less than a full day to install 21 panels on our roof. The only thing we had to do was clear some shelves in the basement and write them a check.
The Impact of Going Solar
I can admit that I thought going solar would have more of an impact on our lives. But in reality, it hasn’t made much of a difference at all. Financially, we aren’t getting rich or going broke. Ethically, I’m glad to be less reliant on our waning supply of fossil fuels. But overall, we didn’t experience any type of blissful metamorphosis when we flipped the switch to the ‘sunshine’ position on the inverter in our basement.
Here are some things that happened when we got solar panels:
- Our power bill is usually around $13 each month. It’s more in the wintertime when the days are longer, but it’s still much less than the $150 that it used to be before going solar.
- We enjoy tracking our energy production from an app on our phones. It makes beautiful sunny days even more satisfying, because on top of enjoying nice weather, we’re making power and making money.
- We have a passive way to make our lives more environmentally sustainable. The other things we do — like using reusable shopping bags, buying more expensive organic produce, and sorting our recycling into an ever-increasing number of bins — take effort.
- Rate hikes from the utility company won’t affect us very much at all. The longer we have our solar panels, the greater our saving will be.
Here are some things that did not happen when we got solar panels:
- We didn’t go on a Mediterranean cruise, which is what our friends did instead of getting solar panels.
- We are not getting wealthy from our savings. Financially, they make very little difference in our household budget the money we save on our power bill goes toward the loan we took out when we financed the panels. After 27 months, the electricity that our panels have generated is equivalent to about 32% of their cost.
- We did not get scammed or become part of some pyramid scheme, like some people warned would happen.
- They have not damaged our roof or led to any unexpected expenses.
Here’s what you should do:
If you’re thinking about going solar, before you start making phone calls or looking for financing, you should first figure out whether or not you want to invest in solar panels.
Do you want solar panels or not?
If you do want to get them, you’ll find a hundred good reasons to get them.
If you don’t want to get them, you’ll find a hundred good reasons not to get them.
Either way, good luck, and good for you for thinking about sustainability and alternative energy.